Earlier this month Dayna Morales, a waitress in Bridgewater, N.J., told the world that one of her customers wrote an anti-gay message on a receipt while stiffing her on the tip. Morales's story went viral and led to more $3,000 in donations from supportive citizens on the Internet. Now, just like that a Red Lobster waitress with a similar story earlier this year, it looks like the incident might not have happened and Morales doctored that receipt.
NBC New York were contacted by the people who allegedly wrote "I am sorry because I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle," on their credit card Morales's. They claim they didn't write anything of the sort to Morales and actually gave her an $18 tip on a $93 meal. (Right around 20 percent). They also showed NBC New York their credit card statement for the $111.55 bill, and a copy of a receipt that matches the date and time of the original. And the family also said that the check was not in their handwriting.
So, someone's clearly lying about the incident. And the burden of proof is now on Morales who gave NBC News a pretty unconvincing defense: "That's not my handwriting. I don't know." She also said she was still planning to give the donations she received to the Wounded Warrior Project.
The whole thing just stinks. A good organization could be getting money that was obtained dishonestly. Gallop Asian Bistro, the place where she worked, could be hurt by the bad publicity. Morales's reputation is shot and if she's lying, it's more fodder for anti-gay advocates to say that LGBT people are not honest about the discrimination they go through. But she isn't the only person to blame.
Part of the reason Morales is getting thousands of dollars in donations is that her story went viral. Sites like The Daily Mail and The Huffington Post picked it up, ran with it, and readers spread it everywhere. No one along line bothered to fact-check it.
To be clear, I'm not saying that audiences and editors are as bad as people who write fake receipts and conjure up homophobia where it didn't exist. But over the past few months, the "someone wrote a disgusting thing on a receipt" story has, for some reason or another, become a fixture on sites and blogs.
In September, Gawker featured a two-line story on how a Red Lobster waitress named Toni Christina Jenkins allegedly got stiffed because of a racist patron who allegedly wrote the n-word on the receipt. Same with Buzzfeed and many social media-driven news sites. Both sites got over 100,000 in pageviews. Gawker wrote about her $10,000 in donations in October and got 115,000 more page views. The man who allegedly wrote the n-word admitted he didn't leave a tip, but also says he didn't write the n-word. And that man has hired lawyers and handwriting experts who say the handwriting samples do not match up. But at the end of the day, Jenkins is $10,000 richer and that man's reputation has already been damaged.
The new revelations in Morales story show how it's possible for a story to get as far as it did without fact-checking. It also, maybe unfairly, might make you skeptical of a similar story in October where a waiter at Carraba's also got an anti-gay message without a tip.
That doesn't let the "good" receipt stories off the hook, either. Restaurants have been accused of planting their own feel-good stories and receipts — like a struggling family that allegedly had their bill comped by an Olive Garden — in places like Reddit, in hopes that they go viral and urge customers to visit the restaurant and spend money.
These receipt stories aren't unlike those letters from parents to gay kids which reaffirm your faith in humanity or kids writing silly things on tests, many of which end up being debunked. (Or at least remain mostly unconfirmed.) With so many viral tales spreading so quickly, it's hard to tell what's true and what's being faked. And unfortunately, to many of the people sharing them online, it just doesn't seem to matter.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.